Omicron dampens festive spirit, worries hospitality sector

News Network
December 24, 2021

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‘Tis indeed the season to be jolly but the emergence of a new Covid variant and reimposed restrictions in some places just when things were looking up has the hospitality sector– and party-goers hoping to make the most of Christmas and year-end festivities – worried yet again.

Though Christmas lights are up in several cities, the feeling of déjà vu, of another year-end of lengthening Covid shadows – this time of the Omicron variant – has dampened the Yuletide spirit. And while many restaurants and hotels are going ahead with their Christmas and New Year plans, it’s all edged with uncertainty and dread that another wave might be just around the corner.

The party may not go on. But nobody can be sure. Be it Delhi or Mumbai, Kolkata or Bengaluru, optimism for a happy and healthy end to the year clashes with the stress of not really knowing what lies ahead. The mantra, as an industry insider put it, is cautiously optimistic

In the national capital, where the Delhi Disaster Management Authority on Wednesday directed district magistrates to ensure no Christmas and New Year gathering takes place in view of the rising Omicron cases, restaurateurs sought more clarity.

The DDMA order, they said, permits bars and restaurants to operate with up to 50 per cent of seating capacity without specifying whether they can host Christmas and New Year parties.

"Whether we can organise a party or not is a grey area. We hope the government will issue a clarification before December 31," Joy Singh, co-partner of Raasta and Yeti, said.

He said they are opting to be cautious and organise only sit-down lunches and dinners.

A restaurant owner in Khan Market, the buzzing shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city, said this is their turnaround moment but it may not happen.

"We were hoping the (DDMA) order would bring some relief but we will have to settle for 50 per cent of the crowd. Ever since the pandemic, we have been facing issues with lockdown and then the curbs… We understand there is the Omicron threat, but other areas are fully functional, so why to target our industry?"

Sahil Sambhi of the Drunken Botanist, a bar-eatery in Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub abutting Delhi, is equally despairing.

“…This is the most rewarding time for the F&B industry. That said, we will abide by the 50 per cent rule strictly and will follow all Covid protocols to the tee. We had planned a few events on the occasion, but I am afraid we have to cancel those now amid the fresh curbs imposed by the state government,” the director of Drunken Botanist said.

Given the escalating number of cases and the fear of another wave, the industry is battling tremendous odds anyway.

According to a survey by English news app Inshorts,  about 63 per cent of Delhi residents said they will "stay at home" while 29 per cent said they would like to be part of "small get-togethers". Of the 15,000 people surveyed, four per cent said they would like to dine out or travel on the occasion.

In Karnataka, the state government has said there will no deejays, no parties from December 31 to January 2. And the 50 per cent cap on occupancy also stands. To add to it, some groups have announced a shutdown on New Year’s Eve to press for a ban on the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, which recently allegedly defaced the statue of 19th-century warrior Sangolli Rayanna, in Belagavi.

Chetan Hegde, the owner of 1522- The Pub in the state capital Bengaluru, said business has dipped by 30 to 40 per cent in the last two years.

"We were expecting a good business this year but again the Omicron has surfaced. We are bound by all the restrictions," Hegde said.

"We had sold our tickets online in good numbers but the restrictions came in the last minute,” added Hitesh Tulsani, operations manager of the Raahi Neo Kitchen and Bar in the city.

Tracking the falling numbers during peak season for the business, he said there was a crowd of about 500 people in his restaurant on December 31, 2019. This plunged to only 30 last year. And this year looks dismal too.

The mood is distinctly downcast in Tamil Nadu as well.

Residency Group COO Gopinath B said they are waiting for official communication from the government.

If there is a ban, celebrations will be subdued; if not, New Year’s Eve will be a big celebration, complete with deejays.       

"Covid will not only affect the hospitality industry but also other kinds of industries… We want to be very careful instead of slipping into another mess," he said.

The mood is optimistic but the uncertainty is palpable in Mumbai as well.

"Currently, we are witnessing positive consumer sentiment following pent up demand," said Nikhil Sharma, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Regional Director - Eurasia.

The company's Ramada Plaza Juhu property has been getting over 55 per cent footfalls for the Christmas and New Year period, and these bookings are expected to rise further for this period.
"Mumbai, as a destination, sees last-minute bookings by locals during this period, and we remain cautiously optimistic," Sharma added.

“Business has been encouraging in the last two months and the sentiment for the festive season is very positive,” said Ravi Ramachandran, general manager, Radisson Mumbai, Andheri MIDC.

But the situation could change. At the moment, due to reports on rising Omicron cases in Maharashtra, bookings for New Year celebrations a week away are low and the outlook is not as promising as it seemed at the beginning of the month.

In Kolkata, famous for its year-end festive vibe, the mood is optimistic.

According to Sudesh Poddar, president of the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Eastern India, the threat of Omicron has so far not impacted the hospitality industry in the city and in other parts of West Bengal. "All our restaurants are recording good turnout which is only increasing in the run-up to Christmas. Restaurants will be open till 1 am from December 24 to January 1 and those serving liquor beyond that if permitted by the Excise department,” Poddar, who also runs Songhai and Manthan, said.

Nitin Kothari, the owner of Peter Cat and Mocambo, said the popular eateries have been seeing full houses for the last week. "We have been maintaining all Covid protocols since the restaurants opened after the lockdown. There has been no laxity… we are adhering to the 70 per cent occupancy limit as stipulated by the state."

India recorded 122 cases of the Omicron variant, the highest so far, pushing its tally in the country to 358, according to Union Health Ministry data on Friday. Of these, 114 have either recovered or migrated.

India recorded 6,650 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally of cases to 3,47,72,626.

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News Network
June 17,2022

Bengaluru, June 17: Amid nationwide protest against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, the government of Karnataka has been trying to douse the anger of the army job aspirants by promising to hire ‘Agnipath’ soldiers into the police force.

Speaking to media persons Home Minister Araga Jnanendra today hit out at the youngsters who are protesting against the government’s controversial military recruitment policy. 

“We have planned that such 4-year military trainees can be recruited for the police,” Jnanendra told reporters. 

The BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have announced a similar move amid protests against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme. 

Conceding that unemployment is “a burning issue forcing youngsters to take up jobs for just Rs 5,000”, Jnanendra said the ‘Agnipath’ scheme will benefit lakhs of aspirants. “After military service, they can be selected for services in the police and security establishments. On what basis are people protesting? I don't understand,” he said. 

“In countries like Israel, military training for the youth is compulsory. Here, the government wants to give military training for four years with a salary of Rs 30,000-40,000. After that, they’ll be given a lump sum of Rs 12-13 lakh. And, 25 per cent of them will be retained in the military,” the minister explained. 

The Centre and state governments are “looking into” the “forces behind” the ongoing protests, Jnanendra said. “Suddenly, people hit the streets and start torching things. They wear a mask. This is a conspiracy,” he said. “Torching trains and homes against such a good scheme...what can I say?” 

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News Network
June 22,2022

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Mangaluru, June 22: The southwest monsoon has gained momentum as all the three coastal districts - Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi - are experiencing heavy showers for the past three days.

The intensity of rain increased considerably on Tuesday and it is expected to remain so till Wednesday. The Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre has sounded a red alert for the coastal districts for Wednesday and a yellow alert for the next four days.

The inclement weather played spoilsport to mass yoga demonstrations in all the three districts.

Incessant showers have left several residential areas and roads, including high church road, Nandanagadda and railway station road in Karwar flooded. The national highway 66 in front of Ravindranath Tagore beach and the state highway at Habbuwada were inundated with rainwater affecting the vehicular movement for hours. Heavy rain and strong winds battered coastal taluks of Uttara Kannada - Ankola, Kumta, Honnavar and Bhatkal - throughout the day.

Honnavar recorded 82 mm of rain in the last 24 hours (ending 8 am on Tuesday) followed by Karwar 71 mm and Kumta 59 mm.

Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts also witnessed intermittent spells of rain on Tuesday. Torrential showers have left Karavali Junction, Ambalpadi, Mudanidamburu flooded in Udupi. More than 20 electricity poles have been uprooted due to rain and strong winds in the district.

According to the weather department, the twin districts are most likely to witness heavy rain (up to 20.4 cm) till June 25. The met department has warned the fishermen not to venture into sea owing to high tides. Also, the people close to the coast and river mouth should relocate to a safer place, the IMD release said.

Kodagu district received moderate to heavy showers in the day. Parts of Malnad and north interior Karnataka also witnessed scattered rainfall.

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News Network
June 16,2022

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Mangaluru:  A teenage girl fell to her death in Mangaluru while trying to pull a curtain in the balcony of the apartment where she lived.

The victim was identified as Sehar Inthiyaaz (15), the eldest daughter of Mohammed Imthiyaaz.

At around 4.30 pm on June 15, Sehar kept adjusting the curtains while tiptoeing on a chair in the balcony of fifth floor of Vishwas crown apartment in Kankanady.

She lost her balance during the process and fell from the fifth floor of the flat.

Mohammed, with help of his neighbours, shifted his daughter to the nearest private hospital. However, Sehar, who had sustained serious head injuries in the fall, succumbed, police sources said.

Sehar was a Class 10 student at Lourdes central school.

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